Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

You know a family film misses the mark when a light from across the aisle catches your attention and turns out to be a kid playing video games. As I struggled through Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, I kept wondering who would enjoy this dull and dreary exercise. Definitely not the kid sitting across the aisle.

Even though I never read one of Dan Handler’s Lemony Snicket novels, I can’t imagine them being as uneventful and monotonous as the film. Adapting popular novels is always risky, but I suspect the leap from page to screen wasn’t successful. I wasn’t just bored, I was bored to tears, which made for extra salty popcorn. Who needs that sort of aggravation?

The problem with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is it wasn’t unfortunate enough. It pretends to be a dark and twisted comedy, but never really crosses the line. Director Brad Silberling, writer Robert Gordon and star Jim Carrey squander every opportunity, playing it safe to the point of becoming Milquetoast. This is a movie that screams for a director like Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family) or Tim Burton (Beetle Juice), not the guy who directed Casper.

Carrey mugs his way through numerous roles, including nemesis Count Olaf, a living cartoon character who delights in taking advantage of his new charges, a trio of orphans with enormous purse strings. Carrey can’t resist the temptation to strut his stuff, even when it doesn’t really suit the plot. Perhaps Silberling and Gordon were too busy laughing at Carey’s shtick to comprehend the narrative damage he commits.

The film starts off promisingly enough, with the narrator, Lemony Snicket (Jude Law), taking us in and out of the story as he writes. There are promises of grim and dastardly events to follow, promises that give way to family-friendly mayhem that never reach their zenith. Even the production design suggests a world more macabre than the filmmakers are willing to deliver.

Too bad, because there are some wonderful near-misses in Lemony Snicket. The kids, inventor Violet (Emily Browning), book smart Klaus (Liam Aiken) and chipper Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), who has a bite worse than Marv Albert, deserve a better movie. Charmers all, they could endure an event much more unfortunate than this film. I wonder if Handler ever saw The Family Jewels with Jerry Lewis, about an orphan forced to choose among her eccentric relatives, all played by Lewis. Now that was funny.

A Snicker-Less Snicket

Unfortunate Series of Cinematic Choices


Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Kara and Shelby Hoffman, Billy Connolly, Catherine O’Hara. Directed by Brad Silberling. Rated PG. 112 Minutes.


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